Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Festivus Everyone…

I’m posting this article without additional commentary from me, make of it what you will…


Inmate seeking kosher meals cites Festivus belief

Associated Press

SANTA ANA, Calif. - An inmate in California who disliked salami was able to receive kosher meals after his attorney cited the "Seinfeld" holiday Festivus as his religious belief.

The Orange County Register reported Monday that 38-year-old convicted drug dealer Malcolm Alarmo King asked for kosher meals at the Theo Lacy jail to maintain his physique.

Orange County sheriff's officials reserve such meals for inmates with religious needs, so a judge demanded a religious reason for King to get the meals.

His defense attorney, Fred Thiagarajah, cited his client's devotion to Festivus - the holiday celebrated on the hit TV show with an aluminum pole and the airing of grievances.

Sheriff's spokesman Ryan Burris says King got salami-free meals for two months before the county got the order thrown out in court.

Read more:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tfilin Bomber

By now I’m sure everyone has heard of the latest Tfilin bomber in what seems to be a growing trend, this time on the Inter-Island Ferry in new Zealand.

I have a friend who used to work on the Inter-Islander before moving to Israel and becoming a Breslover (see picture). I suppose that it’s a shame that he no longer works there, looks like he could have provided some much needed cultural training.

And a quick word of advice – anyone who is travelling and needs to lay Tfilin in a strange place such as an airport, airplane, boat or train (and I’ve davened with Tfilin in all those places in the past), you may want to do yourself a favour and before you daven look around for a security officer or employee, explain to them that you need to pray, and ask them if there is an out-of-the way location where you could pray in private without causing any alarm or disturbing others. No guarantee that you still wont find yourself involved in the next Tfilin-scare, but at least you can claim that it wasn’t your fault.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chanukah Songs

Other bloggers feel obligated to post their favourite Chanukah Songs (I’m looking at you On The Contrary and Dov Bear), but they all seem to have missed the ultimate stupid Chanukah Song.

I’m not normally a fan of Chabad Web Sites, but I love The Itche Kadoozy Show. So without further ado, I present you with Jono’s Dreidle Song.

Happy Chanukah Everyone

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What could be more Jewish than a Dreidel

If you ask most people why we play Dreidel on Chanukah, you’ll probably get a answer like the following:

A game similar to the dreidel game was popular during the rule of Antiochus. During this period Jews were not free to openly practice their religion, so when they gathered to study Torah they would bring a top with them. If soldiers appeared, they would quickly hide what they were studying and pretend to be playing a gambling game with the top.


Does anyone notice any similarity between this explanation, and the reason given for bows and arrows on Lag B’Omer?

But if Dreidel is such an old Jewish custom, how come that it is not mentioned in any Talmudic or other early sources? In fact, how come there wasn’t even a Hebrew word for Dreidel until the modern era? The word סביבון (Sivivon) was coined by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, legend has it that his son Itamar came up with the word. Other early modern Hebrew speakers used other words, Bialik referred to a Dreidel as a "כרכר".

Given that Chanukah represents our rejection of foreign culture, the biggest irony is that it seems that we stole the Dreidel from the Goyim. In the 16th Century there was a popular gambling game using a top known as a teetotum, popular particularly in Ireland around Christmas time (see picture).

Lookup up Teetotum in the dictionary:

[From T-totum. Originally a teetotum was a kind of die used in a game of chance. It had a stick put through a six-sided die so that only four sides could be used. One of the sides had the letter T representing Latin totum (all), implying take the whole stake from the pot. Other sides had letters A aufer (take one stake from the pot), D depone (put one stake), and N nihil (do nothing).

If you’re still not convinced that the Teetotum is the original dreidel, when the game was played in Germany, the game was called “Trundl”, and the 4 sides were translated to German as follows: N (Nichts = nothing), G (Ganz = all), H (Halb = half), and S (Stell ein = put in).

You don’t have to be a language scholar to translate those letters to Yiddish.

Chanukah Sameach to all

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Practising long enough?

A big Mazal Tov to Prince William and Kate Middleton, future King and Queen of the England and the British Commonwealth. I wish them many years of happiness together. I hope that the younger generation of British royals are more successful in marriage than their parents were.

An interesting reflection on how society has changed (and not necessarily for the better) is the fact that William and Kate have been living together for a number of years, even Prince Charles joked that "They've been practising long enough."

A generation ago, it was expected that people would shack up together only after their wedding, not before. Certainly in “refined” circles, this type of arrangement would not have been joked about publically.

Today there are all types of living arrangements, there is no assumption that a man and woman living together would be married, no assumption that a child’s parents would be married to each other, we live in a society where anything and everything is acceptable.

Outside Religious circles, is there even a concept of “waiting until marriage”?

Is the world a better place now that the institution of marriage has been depreciated?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Zealand Jewish Community Needs Your Help

This is it – in 2 weeks the Shechita issue is going to trial in New Zeaalnd.

This is the first time since the Holocaust that a Western Democracy has attempted to ban Shechita. There is a lot riding on this case, not just for the thousand Jewish families in New Zealand, but for Jews all over the world. This trial will set a precedent that may be referred to if other countries attempt to ban Shechita, and believe me there are many organizations in Europe and other places that are looking for legal backing in their attempts to ban Shechita.

Below is a letter from the New Zealand Jewish Community asking for the help from concerned Jews all over the World.

Tizku L’Mitzvot

Are you aware that the Government of New Zealand has passed a code that outlaws Kosher slaughter in New Zealand? The last time similar legislation was enacted by a Government was 70 years ago in Nazi occupied Europe. New Zealand is the first country to ban shechita without a public mood of anti-semitism behind it.

If this code remains, Jews in NZ will only be able to import kosher meat at great expense and chicken will not be available at all. Can you imagine a Jewish home with no chicken soup?

The ramifications of this move may one day affect Jews throughout the whole disapora. It could have a domino effect.

Even though the vast majority of Jews in New Zealand are secular and don't keep Kosher, they understand the implications for worldwide Jewry and they are currently defending world Jewry’s basic human right to practice our religion.

The tiny New Zealand Jewish Community is fighting back and is taking the New Zealand Government to court to fight for their basic human right to practice their religion. The cost of this court case is in excess of NZ$300,000 - a very large sum for a country that has less than 1,000 Jewish families. Already the local Jewish community has raised half of the funds, but is struggling to find the rest of the money to fund the legal challenge.

You can help by :

1) Pass on this information to other people - the more people who know and are prepared to support the New Zealand Jewish community the greater the chance the New Zealand Jewish community has of success.

2) Send a short e-mail to the New Zealand Government. In New Zealand there is a huge support from animal welfare groups who are extremely vocal in their support for the Governments' actions.

Minister of Agriculture (David Carter)

Prime Minister (John Key)

3) Make a donation:

The two largest orthodox congregations in New Zealand, the Wellington Hebrew Congregations and the Auckland Hebrew Congregation have together issued proceedings against the New Zealand Government. All donations large and small would be used in this fight:

Donate using PayPal:

Please visit to place a Credit Card


Telegraph Transfer:
Account Name: New Zealand Shechita Appeal
Account Number: 01-0297-0024731-27
Bank: ANZ Bank (New Zealand)
Swift code (for international transfers): ANZBNZ22
Reference: *Your last name and first Initial*

If you need more information please contact in New Zealand

Garth Cohen - President - Auckland Hebrew Congregation -

Post Script: There are a number of other countries that have bans or limitations on Shechita, including Switzerland and Norway, but most of these bans go back to before the Holocaust, and none of them have practical implications as they are either in locations where there is no Jewish Community (such as Iceland) or in places close to larger Jewish communities where meat can be imported from at a reasonable cost.

Monday, November 1, 2010

“G-d wasn't there. He was on vacation”

The Jerusalem Post has a moving article about the last 2 survivors of Treblinka.

Of over 850,00 Jewish people who passed through the gates of Treblinka in 1943-44, only these 2 people, Samuel Willenberg and Kalman Taigman, are still in the World of the Living.

Less is known about Treblinks than some of the other camps, notably Auschwitz, this is because after the rebellion of October 1943, the NAZIs murdered the few remaining prisoners and destroyed the camp.

67 people who managed to escape during the rebellion, these are the only people known to have survived the camp.

Of the over 850,000 Jews who entered Treblinka, less than 70 survived to the end of the war, and of those, only 2 are still with us.

In a few years, there will be nothing left, not even a memory, just a memorial site in a forest Northeast of Warsaw. A forest that sits on the ashes of close to a million human beings (maybe even more).

Our generation is still to close to the Churban in Europe to ask questions of “Why” or “Where was G-d”, all we can do is document and educate to make sure that the world never forgets.

Wikipedia has an informative article on Treblinka, but the following from the Jerusalem Post article is a much more personal account:

Taigman said he recalls…

He entered Treblinka holding the hand of his mother, who was quickly pulled away from him and murdered. He left [During the Rebellion] watching a Nazi flag burning in the distance from a blaze they had set — a small piece of revenge after nearly a year of torment.

"It was hell, absolutely hell," said Taigman, who lives in a retirement home south of Tel Aviv. "A normal man cannot imagine how a living person could have lived through it — killers, natural-born killers, who without a trace of remorse just murdered every little thing."

Taigman, who wandered in the Polish countryside for nearly a year after his escape, said his most lasting memory of Treblinka is fellow prisoners who had to remove bodies — often their own relatives — from gas chambers.

David Silberklang, a senior historian at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, said that in contrast to other camps where Jews were also used for industrial labor, Treblinka truly represented the essence of the Nazi Final Solution.
"Treblinka had nothing, just killing, and they almost finished the job. These camps left us almost nothing," he said. Without the survivors, he said "it would just be a black hole, we would know nothing. With them, we know quite a lot," he said.

One of the men most responsible for documenting the atrocities was Eliahu Rosenberg, who was tasked with removing bodies from gas chambers and dumping them into giant pits. He passed away in September, but before his death recounted his experiences in a video testimony to Yad Vashem.

"It poisoned, choked people within 25 minutes, all would suffocate. It was terrible to hear the screaming of the women and the children. They cried: "Mama!" ''Tata! (Dad)" but in a few minutes they choked to death," he said.

"The crematoriums were train rails which lay on a concrete base. On them were wood planks, we called it 'grills.' We threw the body parts onto those 'grills,' and with a match everything burnt. And we stood there ... and it burned all night, all night long."

After the revolt, the Nazis attempted to destroy all evidence of their atrocities. The camp structures were destroyed, the ground plowed and planted over. Today, all the remains at the site are a series of concrete slabs representing the train tracks, and mounds of gravel with a memorial of stone tablets representing lost communities.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NZ Shechita Ban – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Last week the heads of the Jewish communities in Auckland and Wellington put out a letter calling on people to take action to make sure that the ban on Shechita in New Zealand is defeated when it goes to court next year.

Since then there have been a number of articles in the media.

The Good

  • There is a good summary of what Shechita is and the implications of the ban available here.
  • The New Zealand Herald ran an informative article on Shechita and how the ban may hurt the future of the New Zealand Jewish community.
  • The issue was also covered in J-Wire and The Jewish Journal,
  • And for those on Facebook, there is a group that you can join.

The Bad

Arutz 7 reported that a major English Supplier of Kosher Meat is discontinuing Shechita, lets hope that this isn’t the next stage in a world trend.

The Ugly

The New Zealand Animal Welfare group SAFE has launched a campaign to have the ban on Shechita reinstated in New Zealand.

That isn’t by itself surprising. What is surprising is that they didn’t take the time to do even basic research into what Shechita is, the short article on Shechita is so full of basic errors it is amazing that they put it on the Internet (Errors on The Internet – hard to believe but true).

Following is a short letter that I just sent them asking them to publish a clarification. I’ll let you know if there is a response.


Subject: Kosher Slaughter

Dear Sir / Madam,

Your article on Kosher Slaughter ( completely mis-represents Kosher Slaughter and has several errors.

  • The knives in the pictures are not at all similar to a Shechita knife which is extremely sharp (and sharpened between each animal) to make sure that the animal cannot feel the cut. If the knife was not 100% smooth, there is a chance that the animal would feel pain of the cut and the animal is not kosher.
  • An animal slaughtered through Shechita does not “bleed to death”, as your article claims, rather oxygen is cut off to the brain so that the animal is rendered unconscious immediately. The Animal feels no pain. If there is any indication that the animal did not die instantaneously (for example the cut did not go completely through the wind-pipe) the animal would not be kosher.
  • Your claim that “Another method is a stab to the chest which severs the major arteries and veins.” is completely false, such a method of slaughter would not be kosher.

Many scientific studies have found that Kosher slaughter is in fact more humane than stunning (which does not always render the animal unconscious immediately). The studies carried out by the Animal Welfare Board in New Zealand did not accurately investigate Shechita as the tests were carried out with a different type of knife using a different type of slaughter.

The Jewish religion requires humane treatment of animals before, during, and after slaughter. This includes the way that animals are raised, how they are slaughtered, and symbolically the blood of some animals is buried to show respect for the life that was lost.

Wikipedia has a short article on the treatment of animals in Jewish Law:

The US Humane Society also has an article on the Jewish treatment of animals:

I appreciate that you have animal welfare at heart, but I believe that you owe it to your readers to provide accurate information about Shechita.

I hope that you will consider publishing a correction to the misrepresentations in your article.


Michael Sedley


The only response that I received from SAFE was a short note saying that they would investigate the matter, however upon checking the link above I see that they have completely re-written the article on Shechita. They are still calling for the ban to be enforced, however they have removed the incorrect information about the Shechita process.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cute Video – They Spoke Hebrew

Jacob Richman just put together a short (less than 5 minutes) video of Hebrew being used in popular TV shows (Everything from MASH to House), it opens with a great scene of a Brit being supervised by Father Mulcahy with the Hebrew words being to him via Morse Code (with Radar’s Help).

You should definitely check it out:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Can anyone help me out with this Rashi

Can anyone explain the last Rashi in Parshat Noach:

בראשית י”א ל”ב

וַיִּהְיוּ יְמֵי תֶרַח חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמָאתַיִם שָׁנָה וַיָּמָת תֶּרַח בְּחָרָן


בחרן - הנו"ן הפוכה לומר לך עד אברם חרון אף של מקום

The Nun is inverted to tell you that until the time of Abraham, the fierce anger (חרו) of the Omnipotent was kindled against the world

(Translation from Silberman)

I looked in a few commentaries on Rashi (Siftei Chachamim, Gur Ariyeh) but couldn’t find any explanation as to what Rashi means by נון הפוכה. In our Sifrei Torah there is nothing unusual about the Nun in that word.

Silberman has a footnote that on the word “Inverted” that “According to some authorities this should be so” – does he mean that there are opinions that the Nun at the end of חרן should be upside-down like the end of Bamidbar 10 ( ׆ )

Anyone else have any idea what Rashi may be referring to?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Amazing Photos of Jewish life in New Zealand

HaChayim Hayehudim Jewish photo Library has just posted several collections of Jewish Life in Australia and New Zealand including a wonderful collection of photos of the shul where I grew up, a separate collection of photos of the Holocaust Education Center which was initiated by my father, and pictures of the Library/Beit Midrash in the shul in Wellington (the Van Staveren Room).

He also has many gravestones, I even found a pictures of the graves of my Paternal grandfather and grandmother and Maternal Grandfather and grandmother.

Amazing photos, well worth a visit.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rashi in the News

One of the strangest Rashis in Parshat Berashit is on 4:23 where he describes the death of Cain:

שמען קולי" - שהיו נשיו פורשות ממנו מתשמיש לפי שהרג את קין ואת תובל קין בנו שהיה למך סומא ותובל קין מושכו וראה את קין ונדמה לו כחיה ואמר לאביו למשוך בקשת והרגו וכיון שידע שהוא קין זקנו הכה כף אל כף וספק את בנו ביניהם והרגו והיו נשיו פורשות ממנו והוא מפייסן

For his [Lemech’s] wives separated from him because he killed Cain and Tuval-Cain, his own son. For Lemech was blind and Tuval-Cain used to lead him. [Tuvan-Cain] saw Cain and thought that he was an animal, and told his father to draw his bow, thus he [Lemech] killed him [Cain].

I had always hound this Rashi odd, to say the least – however yesterday The Gainsesville Sun reported a surprisingly similar story….

Hunter mistaken for deer shot with arrow

By Karen Voyles
Staff writer

A hunter is expected to survive after being shot in the back with an arrow. Investigators said the hunter's friend shot the arrow from a bow after mistaking the hunter for a deer.

"This is a good time to remind hunters — no matter what they are hunting with — to make sure they know what they are aiming at," said Karen Parker, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The incident occurred around sunset Wednesday in Jennings State Forest, a popular North Florida hunting site east of U.S. 301 and north of Camp Blanding in Clay County.

The hunter, John Whigham, 22, of Fleming Island, was taken to Shands Jacksonville. Parker said Whigham's injury was not considered life-threatening.

Whigham said he was returning to a hunting stand when his friend, Randy Pritchard, 40, of Middleburg, shot him in the back.

Pritchard told investigators the shooting was accidental and happened when he mistook Whigham for a deer.

FWC investigators were continuing their investigation Thursday morning. The shooting has been preliminarily identified as an accident, and no charges had been filed.

No mention of whether the hunter was blind.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Selecting Arba Minim

Arba Minim has always been a special Mitzva to me, partially because growing up in New Zealand, getting Arba Minim was extremely difficult.

I owe a big Hakarat HaTov to Rav Chaim Fischweicher who was in Wellington when I became Bar Mitzva and in the years following my Bar Mitzva made sure that I had access to Arba Minim, often at my home (which was a long distance from the shul), even if it meant that there would be one less set in the shul.

I could tell you interesting stories about acquiring arba minim in New Zealand, almost every year between my Bar Mitzva and my Aliyah 9 years later there was a complication getting kosher Arba Minim. On more than one occasion it was davka the Haddas that was the problem.

Anyway, because growing up Arba Minim required so much effort, I feel particularly lucky to now be living in a community where this Mitzva is relatively easy to perform (even if prices are excessive due to corrupt suppliers – but that’s a different story).

If you are planning to select your own Arba Minim (as opposed to buying a closed box from a reliable source), you should always review the Halachot before heading to the Arba Minim Shuk.

An excellent brief summary of Hilchot Arba Minim is available from Torah Live. There are 4 short videos, each summarizing the Halachot of one of the minim in a clear, concise, and entertaining method. You can also download a very practical source sheet.

Well worth taking a look.

Hat Tip: Gruntig

Thursday, September 16, 2010

גמר חתימה טובה

To all my readers - best wishes for an easy, meaningful, and successful fast and a גמר חתימה טובה

And to put you in the right mood, here is classic MBD from the early 90s singing Kol Nidrei

Have you seen this Headline Before?

Newspapers are again showing headlines like "Leaders Call for Peace as Mideast Talks Begin" (headline, New York Times, Sept. 2)

Well to save yourself money, instead of buying a current newspaper, pick up any paper from 1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, or 2007.

You’ll see the same headlines, same issues being discussed, same hysterical “This is our last window of opportunity for peace”, same unrealistic demands, and same probable outcome: increase in violence.

Maybe we should take a break from peace talks for a while and let the violence subside.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Does Religious Activity make you happy?

The New York Times has an interesting article on a research that suggests that as people shop on Sunday instead of attending religious services, happiness goes down.

It makes sense that people who take a day off every week for spiritual matters are likely to be happier, but interesting to see that research backs this up.

Wonder if the researchers from Ben Gurion university could do a follow up study in Israel to see whether attending shul on Shabbat (or having a family dinner on Friday night) leads to more happiness.


Sunday Shopping Linked With Less Happiness


Dan Gill for The New York Times Skipping church to go shopping meant feeling less happy for some.

How do you spend your Sunday? For many, this traditional day of rest and churchgoing has become a day to shop, but it may be taking a toll on happiness.

Researchers from DePaul University in Chicago and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel tracked church attendance and levels of happiness among Americans living in states that had repealed so-called blue laws, which once required most retailers to stay closed on Sundays.

The researchers found that allowing stores to open on Sundays was linked with a decline in church attendance among white women, which led to a subsequent decline in happiness. Among black women, the repeal of the blue laws had no measurable effect, although that may be because the sample size was too small to draw any statistically meaningful conclusions.

Notably, the finding was true only for women. For men, the repeal of blue laws didn’t seem to influence church attendance or levels of happiness.

Since the repeal of blue laws, women are about 17 percent less likely to report being “pretty happy,” and more likely to report being “not happy,” according to the study, which is still awaiting final publication.

“People know there is a correlation between religiosity and happiness, but there’s not conclusive evidence that there is a causal effect,’’ said William Sander, professor of economics at DePaul. “Our paper tends to provide more conclusive evidence that religiosity among women does affect happiness.’’

The researchers studied data collected from the General Social Survey, an ongoing sociological survey used to collect demographic information from United States residents. They compared respondents in 10 states where Sunday shopping had been banned and then allowed, compared with six states where there had been no change in rules for retailers. The study specifically focused on the behavior of Catholics and Protestants because they were most likely to attend church on Sundays.

So why would Sunday shopping make women less happy? Part of the reason may be that some of the women were required to work on Sundays after the repeal of blue laws. “People don’t like to work on Sundays,’’ Dr. Sander said.

Or the decline in women’s happiness once Sunday shopping is allowed may be linked to the behavior of their children, many of whom may start hanging out at shopping malls on Sundays. Earlier research has shown that the repeal of blue laws is linked with more risk-taking behavior by teens.

Or it may simply be that the lure of shopping is more powerful than the desire to attend church, even though it brings less happiness.

“Shopping is kind of addictive, and even though it doesn’t make people happy, they’re doing it and they don’t return to church as much because of that,’’ Dr. Sander said. “There is instant gratification from shopping compared to the benefits of church, which may occur over a longer period of time.’’

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

שנה טובה

To all my readers, best wishes for a Shana Tova.

My the coming year be a year of peace, health and prosperity for all of Klal Yisrael and the entire world.

To put you in the right frame of mind before Yom HaDin, here is an old recording of ונתנה תוקף from Mordechai ben David, and a more recent one from Avraham Fried

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Of peace and Peace Talks

Well Bibi and Abbas are at it again. Last week they both flew to Washington to promote the illusion that there is some type of peace, or at least a peace process happening.

I don’t think that anyone actually believes that this process will lead to peace, or even an agreement; it seems pretty clear that the main reason for the latest round of negotiations is to help the Obama (well the Democrats) in the mid-term election in November.

In case this point wasn’t obvious by itself, did anyone else notice that even though Bibi and Abbas have offices about 25 minutes drive from each other (remember that Ramallah is a suburb of Jerusalem), they had to fly to Washington to meet each other.

No doubt there will be pressure on Bibi to extend the building freeze, which is to be expected, and is not even an unreasonable demand from the point-of-view of Abbas. However it is crucial that if Bibi is contemplating giving something tangible, like an extension of the freeze, it must be for something tangible in return.

Here are a few suggestions of things that Bibi could insist on before extending the freeze:

  • For the PA to live up to its commitment to allow full access to Kever Yosef in Shchem. This would be a great opportunity for the PA to prove that they are serious about Peace and that their US trained and armed “Police Force” are able to secure a single building so that Jews have free and unlimited access to the sight.
  • That the PA live up to its commitment to remove all incitement from schools. They could start by withdrawing all textbooks that deny Israel’s existence or deny the Holocaust.
    If they cannot control their own schools (which are financed by the International community), hard to see how they could create and control a viable state.
  • That the PA conduct a full investigation into the terrorist shootings last week and that the perpetrators are caught and brought to trial. An important question is whether the guns or gunmen were supplied or trained by the US/Israel.
    If it turns out that we are arming or training terrorists, it should be obvious that there be no future guns or training provided to the PA security forces until they are able to guarantee that these resources will not be misused again in the future.

If Abbas is unable to deliver on any of the above, Bibi should restate that Israel is prepared to make peace if and when their is a Palestinian leadership willing to prove that it is serious about peace, but in the mean time, given that there is no partner or possibility of peace, Israel will look at other unilateral options, such as full annexation of Judea and Samaria, as proposed my MK Tzipi Hotovely.

Oh – and take a look at Dershowitz’ Blog pointing out how unwarranted criticism of Israel, such as the Goldstone report, makes it almost impossible for Israel to take “risks for peace”, because it is clear that if the “risks” blow up in our face in the form of attacks against us, there will be no way do defend ourselves without Goldstone or his ilk raking us over the coals.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Who changed the uniform?

Grunting posted a video of Slichot in 770 in 1965.

I thought that the video was interesting because it is rare to see pictures (let alone footage) of the Rebbe that were taken before the 1980s. Almost all the pictures that we see plastered over everything were taken in the last few years of his life.

What struck me as interesting is that no one in the video is wearing the wide brim hatmobile that we associate with Chabad today. Today the Chabad dress code is extremely rigid, A Fedora with a very wide brim often worn with a long “frock coat" and of course an un-trimmed beard.

In contrast in the video Most people (including the Rebbe) are wearing hats with much smaller brims, a few are wearing homburgs, and many are clean shaven.

I know that when Chabad moved to America they replaced their Chassidic Shtreimel with a more modern American Fedora. But at some point since the 60s they decided to codify their uniform with a much more distinctive look (although not as destinctive as the elaborate dress code worn by other Chassidim)

At what point in the last 30 years did Chabad adopt the hats and jackets that we see today? Who made the decision?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Traffic Jams and the Jewish problem

Last week I reposted an article about the Monster Traffic Jam in China where cars were (and still are) stuck for several days.

While writing, I couldn’t help but wonder what a frum Jew would do in a similar situation, well as if on cue, Erev Shabbat there was a large traffic jam in the Shomron, leaving dozens of motorists stranded right before Shabbat.

In contrast to the situation in China where local residents sold supplies to the motorists at inflated prices, the residents of the town Adam came out to help the stranded motorists and provided food and accommodation for Shabbat.

Here’s the story as reported in Arutz 7:

This Shabbat, dozens of Jewish families were stranded in a traffic jam as Shabbat came in and were hosted in the town of Adam (Geva Binyamin).

The traffic jam was caused by an accident between an Israeli and Palestinian car between the Hizme and Adam junctions, northeast of Jerusalem. Several Jews and Arabs were injured in the accident, which occurred at 6 PM on Friday evening, and police forces arrived on the scene soon afterwards.

By 7 PM, when Shabbat was coming in, traffic was at a near standstill, catching many drivers on their way home before sundown. As driving on the Shabbat is forbidden by Torah law, many Jewish drivers parked their cars on the side of the road, took their belongings, and walked, some of them more than a kilometer, until they reached the Jewish town of Adam. Some even continued to the towns of Pesagot and Kochav Yaakov, which are several kilometers further down the road.
The first small groups arrived on foot as the Jews of Adam were beginning their Friday night prayers in the synagogue. "There was a giant traffic jam on the road," said the walkers, breathless. "The sun was setting. We realized we weren't going to make it," they explained, setting down their backpacks and belongings.
The word spread like wildfire. Once the townspeople understood the situation, they mobilized immediately, sending several runners to help the stragglers enter the town, alerting the security apparatus, and quickly allocating stranded families to the Adam residents for Shabbat meals and places to sleep.


Hat Tip: Life in Israel and Joe Settler

Interestingly enough, Heshy at Frum Satire also was stranded Erev Shabbat, but with a little Hashacha Pratit he managed to make it to a Beit Chabad minutes before Shkia.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Monster Traffic Jam

Next time you’re complaining about heavy traffic, just be glad that you’re not in China where there is a traffic jam 100 km long, with some vehicles stuck for five days so far.

They hope to clear all the traffic within three weeks.

Here are extracts of the AP report as published in the Chicago Tribune:

BEIJING (AP) — China has just been declared the world's second biggest economy, and now it has a monster traffic jam to match.
Triggered by road construction, the snarl-up began 10 days ago and was 100 kilometers (60 miles) long at one point. Reaching almost to the outskirts of Beijing, traffic still creeps along in fits and starts, and the crisis could last for another three weeks, authorities say.

In the worst-hit stretches of the road in northern China, drivers pass the time sitting in the shade of their immobilized trucks, playing cards, sleeping on the asphalt or bargaining with price-gouging food vendors. Many of the trucks that carry fruit and vegetables are unrefrigerated, and the cargoes are assumed to be rotting.
On Sunday, the eighth day of the near-standstill, trucks moved just over a kilometer (less than a mile) on the worst section, said Zhang Minghai, a traffic director in Zhangjiakou, a city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Beijing. China Central Television reported Tuesday that some vehicles had been stuck for five days.

Monday, August 23, 2010

בְּראשׁ הַשָּׁנָה יִכָּתֵבוּן וּבְיום צום כִּפּוּר יֵחָתֵמוּן

As we approach Yom HaDin, we should all stop and appreciate what we have. And be thankful to HaShem for every living moment.

I found the following song very powerful…

The song was recorded by Yisrael Chaim in the days before his Bar Mitzva.
The Song was recorded between chemo sessions

May HaShem grant Yisrael Chaim a רפואה שלימה, together with all חולי ישראל

Hat tip: gruntig

Thursday, August 19, 2010

2 Thoughts on Charedi Isolationism

Saw 2 interesting comments today that I wanted to share.

One was a comment on a Jerusalem Post article about army exemptions for charedim.

Commenter Norma Gellman responded to the article as follows:

It's time the non-religious become 1st class citizens, the Haridi need to serve the country like everyone else. This may also help to bring them into the 21st century

That last line sums up exactly why many Charedim try to avoid the army, and why many secular feel that this is the most important issue in the county is the Charedi draft. It is nothing to do with defending the country, rather the main issue is whether the Charedi community should be ‘brought into the 21st century”?

Not sure exactly what Norma means by “21st Century”, but if it is a reference to many of the values we see coming out of Hollywood of off the Internet, I don’t want the army teaching those values to my kids.

I strongly believe that serving in the army is a Mitzva, and the Charedi community should join the rest of the nation in army of some other type of national service, but if the purpose of the draft is to get them to break from their values, and adopt “21st century” values, I understand completely (and support) the Charedi leadership opposition to military service.

For a totally different perspective, Hasidic-Feminist has a fascinating article about life in the Satmar World and how the entire lifestyle is geared towards separating Chasidm from the rest of society. A well written article and definitely worth a read.

Some highlights:

I davened every day. While my lips moved in futile prayer, the sexy little voices in my head never stopped talking, infringing on my relationship with God, luring me to earthly temptations. The more I tried to silence them, the more those voices clamored; spurring me onward in my dangerous quests for adventure…

Satmar is currently the largest and most extreme of the Hasidic sects; the thick beards and long side curls, as well as the traditional black hat and coat, are more than just a religious dress code. They are ways to mark Satmar Hasidim as separate in the most glaring way possible. Difference is what keeps Hasidic people on their narrow path.

Mostly though, Hasids keep to themselves; they prefer the safety of their home base and the spiritual protection it affords them. Once inside the community, Hasids close themselves off to the many opportunities and conveniences on the outside. They have no inkling of popular culture, and are ignorant about secular ideas. Most Hasidim have not received any education beyond religious schooling, and can barely speak English. Although I taught myself to speak and write English fluently, I was a conspicuous exception. All my life I felt drawn to the English language, because it allowed for much more freedom of emotion and expression than Yiddish. While Yiddish was my native tongue, somehow the words that were available never seemed right, and so the language stunted my thoughts, constricted my voice.

Hasidic people find interacting with the secular world a frightening ordeal; the struggle to speak English and fit in coupled with an eccentric demeanor results in an awkward encounter at best. I had to overcome those fears every time I left Williamsburg; at least when I blended in with the others around me I felt normal, but on the outside I felt exposed, an object of ridicule. It was impossible for me to de-emphasize my difference. The Grand Rabbi of Satmar, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, had intended these obstacles, designing a lifestyle that would separate us so completely that assimilation would be nearly impossible. Rabbi Teitelbaum had reinvented the Hasidic movement in the post war period of the 1950s; he claimed that assimilation had been the cause of the Holocaust, and that only by demonstrating true devotion to God could the Jewish people prevent another outpouring of His wrath. Only in America did the Hasidic lifestyle become such an intensely structured experience; every act and thought was accompanied by detailed rules and guidelines. For a Satmar Hasid, there was only one morally correct way in which to conduct one’s life, with no room for difference.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of Tolerance and Intoloerance

2 news articles really bothered me today:

  • Arutz7 is reporting that the Samaria Residents’ Council is complaining about instructions to soldiers not to eat in front of Muslims during Ramada, and to extend times that check points are open to accommodate Muslims observing Ramadan.
  • Jerusalem Post reports that Residents of Binyamin have launched a protest against the planned Arab city of Rawabi (which has been dubbed as the “Palestinian Modi’in”)

These articles bother not only because of the apparent intolerance within the National Jewish Community, but because I think that this type of attitude hurts not only mutual co-existence, but the cause of the Nationalist camp.

I believe that all possible plans for the future of this Land fall into one of 2 categories:

Either we decide that Jews and Arabs will never get on together, and we should put up a large wall or border between “Us” and ‘Them” and make sure that we have as little interaction as possible. This is the basis of the “2 State Solution” proposed by many on the left. It is also the basis of the proponents of Transfer, the only difference being where we put the border.

The only alternative that I can think of is that we agree that we have to live together and we work to encourage mutual tolerance and interaction. A good start to this would be to instil sensitivities to the cultural norms of each other. If Muslims are fasting this month, we should be sensitive to that when interacting with them. (A while ago I wrote about the importance of increased interaction between Jews and Arabs in a post on “My Peace Plan”)

Similarly, I think that the proposed new Arab city of Rawabi, which would be a few minutes drive from my house, is an excellent idea. I don’t believe that “Poverty Breeds Terrorism”, or that improving the Palestinian standard of living will eliminate radicals, it will however have many benefits to both the Jewish and Arab population:

  • For the Arabs, having quality affordable housing by itself is a great benefit
  • It’ll reduce overcrowding in Ramallah and Jerusalem, and hopefully discourage illegal Palestinian building within Jerusalem, as there will be cheaper alternatives.
  • It’ll boost the Palestinian economy, which in turn will support the Israeli economy, as Palestinians will spend their goods in Israel or to buy Israeli goods (the Israeli and Palestinians economies are really a single intertwined item)
  • Increasing the Palestinian Standard of living will probably decrease family sizes; statistically all over the World, as Standard of Living goes up, family size goes down (One of the very few exceptions is within the Religious Jewish community). Reduced Palestinian family size would offset the “demographic time bomb”, which was the justification for plans like the Gaza withdrawal or the creation of the PA, both of which increased terrorism and made the prospects of genuine peace more unattainable

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chickens for Yom Tov

Recently when I spoke to my mother (who’s in New Zealand) she mentioned that she had two chickens left in the freezer which she was saving for Rosh Hashanah as she wasn’t sure whether there would be any more kosher meat available in the country by then.

Well the good news is that after the New Zealand Jewish Community launched legal proceedings against the Minister of Agriculture, the local court approved an interim agreement which would allow shechita until the case goes to trial.

Here is the official announcement from the shul in Wellington:

Dear Congregants,

As we informed the community last week, we filed legal proceedings against the Minister of Agriculture, seeking a restoration of the right to practise shechita in New Zealand.

We are pleased to report that an interim agreement has now been reached with the Minister, which will enable the continued practice of shechita in the period up to trial (which is likely to take place during 2011).

Court orders were made by consent in the Wellington High Court this morning, giving legal effect to that agreement. Every effort is being made to get chicken and local lamb "back on the table" as soon as possible.

The community would like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution the legal team at Russell McVeagh have made in putting together our case to achieve this positive outcome in such a short period.

Claire Massey
Chair, Board of Directors

Additional information in this article from and J-Wire.

So the good news is that if you’re in New Zealand for Yom Tov, there should be kosher meat available.

Hopefully the new Rabbi will be settled in Wellington by then.

Lets just hope that when the Shechita issue does get to trial in 2011, the court backs the basic right of the Jewish Community to eat meat in accordance with our religious requirements.

(If anyone wants to contribute to the court costs, details are available in this Facebook group)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Anyone know the end of this Joke

There’s been a joke going around the Internet that starts something like this…

A Priest, A Rabbi, and the Daughter of a Former US President walk into a wedding..

Unfortunately I can’t work out how the joke ends.

Someone told me that it ends with the end of American Jewry.

Someone else said that it ends with the success of the American melting pot experiment.

Maybe they were both right, that Jews can’t survive in a melting pot.

As someone much cleverer than me once said:

“If we don’t make Kiddush, the non-Jews will make Havdalah”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is it time to privatize the Rabbanut

Earlier this week I wrote about the dismal service offered by the Rabbanut when people come to register their marriage. Instead of being happy and encouraging the couple, they are often rude and force the couple to jump through hoops to prove that they are Jewish, even if they could confirm their status with a few phone calls.

Two commenters recommended using alternative services to the Rabbanut, one to the right (Eida Charedit), the other to the left (Tzohar). To the best of my knowledge, it is technically not legal to marry through either of these services yet Misrad Hapnim will often accept documents from the Eida (not sure about Tzohar) and register a couple as married.

I’ve also heard of couples marrying with a Reform rabbi, and somehow getting Misrad Hapnim to register the marriage.

I think that there is a lot of benefit to having a single body in charge of weddings, conversions, and divorces, it removes doubts for future generations and avoids the problem of “my son can’t marry your daughter”. It also means that there is a single location where records are kept, making it easier for future generations to trace family records.

That said, given the terrible service provided by the Rabbanut in some cities, maybe there should be some level of recognized competition to the Rabbanut.

This could mean licensing other organizations like the Eida or Tzohar to do weddings, and make sure that they have the halachic knowledge, appropriate supervision/control, and a proper record keeping system.

Alternatively they could relax the requirement to register the marriage in the city where one of the couple live. Given that some offices of the Rabbanbut are more “user friendly” than others, travelling to a neighbouring town to register a wedding would be a good alternative for some couples, and would keep control in the hands of the Rabbanut (I believe that this is similar to the conversion system proposed in the Rotem Bill).

There is already competition in other services provided by the Rabbanut such as Kashrut, Mikvaot, and Eruvin. Maybe it’s time to let the power of the free market force the Rabbanut to improve their customer services/

(BTW – I am deliberately avoiding the question of non Orthodox or secular weddings, I do have an opinion on that question, and maybe I’ll address it in a separate post)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Are we helping the enemy

Yesterday there was a flair-up on the Lebanese border.

the sequence of events was as follows:

  1. Israel needed to do maintenance work (cutting down a tree) in the closed military zone between the Border fence and the International Border.
  2. Even though Israeli troops would not be crossing the border, because this work was adjacent to the border they informed the UN Observers
  3. The UN observers notified the Lebanese army, and then went to Observe (after all that’s what they’re there for)
  4. The Lebanese army opened fire and killed an Israeli soldier who was working on the Israeli side of the border
  5. The international press reported that Israel had invaded Lebanese territory or was working in a disputed area when Lebanese troops opened fire. (Yahoo, AP, MSNBC, and the NY Times all mis-represented the facts, when a simple call to the UN Observers would have eliminated the need for “he said – she said"” journalism)

A few obvious questions:

  • Why are we coordinating our activities with UNIFIL if the result is that the Lebanese army is notified in advance of where they should attack us?
  • Why do we need UN soldiers to confirm that we did not cross the border, if the result is that the World media blames Israel anyway, or at least assigns equal blame.

As Kurt Cobain said:
“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you”

Hat tip: Barry Rubin.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Ultimate Wasted Opportunity

There have been several news articles recently about the impact of intermarriage. Many bloggers have written about the very public marriage between Princess Chelsea and some commoner who owns a Tallis. A former employer of mine, David Breakstone wrote about the challenge he faced when his son’s fiancé turned out to be not-Jewish according to Halacha.

As tragic as the challenge of Intermarriage is, one of the really frustrating things for me is when two Jewish people want to get married and are made to jump through hoops by the Rabbinate to prove their Judaism.

Ha’aretz ran one such story about Hillary Rubin who produced the necessary documentation to prove her Jewishness, but the Rabbanut still gave her problems, to the point that she is afraid to go to the Beit Din (there are additional details not mentioned in the article, you can see more about her background on her blog).

Unfortunately these types of stories are all to common in Israel. I remember when Debbie and I got engaged 15 years ago. When we went to the Rabbinate we had to wait several hours as the couple in front of us has some complications. I don’t know the details, but they were a Russian couple, and there was some issue (he may have been a Cohen). Lets just say that there were raised voices, and by the time the couple left the office I am sure that they would have been happy to never see another Rabbi again – ever.

The wait was so long, that it was getting close to Shkia. I had assumed that we would be finished in plenty of time for me to find a Minyan, but when I saw that it was getting late for Mincha, I went into a corner of the waiting room to Daven.

Of course as soon as I started Davening the couple in front of us left, and a very angry Rabbi stormed out of his office, saw Debbie by herself and demanded to know where the Chatan was. When she pointed to me davening in the corner his whole attitude changed. Suddenly he was very friendly and accommodating, he even went out of his way to find my brother’s file from when he got married several years earlier and photo-copied the letter of recognition of the Rabbi who had provided a letter confirming that I was Jewish and Single, and to top it off he offered us a discount.

I left the office very upset by the whole experience. I know many Rabbis and interact with them every day, I don’t care whether this Rabbi is rude to me; it will not effect my opinion of Judaism – however the couple in front of us, this may well have been the first time that they ever spoke to a Rabbi. By making the process difficult and unpleasant almost guarantees that they will go out of their way to avoid Rabbis or anything connected with Judaism in the future. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is important the Jews in this country are married according to halacha (a separate arrangement should be made for people who aren’t Jewish, but that’s a separate story), however the whole way that the process is handled should be restructured.

One possible solution would be to work more with local neighbourhood Rabbis who already exist in big cities and are under the auspices of the Rabbinate. These Rabbis should have their roles increased and be trained more to work with local residents, particularly non-religious residents in their neighbourhood.

If there is a Brit, Bar Mitzva or R”L a death in the neighbourhood, the Rabbi should make it his responsibility to meet the family and offer his assistance as needed.

Similarly, if there is an engagement in the neighbourhood, instead of facing some bureaucrat at the Rabbanut, the couple should meet with their local Rabbi who hopefully would know their families personally.

It would be the Rabbi’s responsibility to fill in any paperwork and confirm that the couple are both Jewish. If there any questions, he should have resources to track down contacts in the cities that they come from, or their grandparents come from to see if there are records in the local communities or cemetery. Maybe he could call the Rabbi in the town that the couple grew up or speak to their grandparents.

In the vast majority of cases, with the required resources and a few phone calls, a trained Rabbi should be able to confirm that the happy couple of in fact Jewish.

If there really is a question, it should be the job of the local Rabbi to go with the couple to the Beit Din and try to resolve the issue together.

Unfortunately a proposal like this would decentralize the control of the Rabbanut and would face fierce opposition

On a more positive note, Tzhoar is an organization of Rabbis who are trying to set up services similar to what I described above. They are trying to get their Rabbis employed by local congregations so that they can have representatives in as many communities and neighbourhoods as possible. The already help people navigate the bureaucracy of the Rabbanut and provide support and assistance to engaged couples.

I am not sure whether Tzohar would be able to help Hillary, and others with similar cases, but I wish her success and hope that she is able to quickly resolve the issues with the Rabbanut, has a happy wedding and merits to build a Bayt Neeman BYisrael.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Conspiracy or coincidence?

I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories, but the way that the Shechita ban was implemented in New Zealand, rushed through parliament with little debate or forewarning against the advise of the parliamentary committee seems to imply that there is more to the story than has been made publically available.

My father just posted the following message on a New Zealand Jewish Email List. Not sure whether this was the motivating force behind the ban, but if it is, it would certainly explain a lot of unanswered questions. (My father’s comments in blue)

Is there a possible connection between the banning of schechita on 26 May and the problems with the free trade agreement with the Gulf States negotiated just shortly before that?

Ink not dry on FTA

Sources say New Zealand's refusal to resume live sheep exports could be a sticking point in a Free Trade Agreement with the Gulf States

New Zealand's much-heralded Free Trade Agreement with the Gulf States is faltering, even though the Government said three months ago that the ink was drying on the paperwork.
In May a delegation travelled on what turned out to be a disastrous trade mission to the region ahead of the agreement's expected signing.
Trade Minister Tim Grosser now admits the signing, which he said in May was simply a matter of translating Arabic into English, has run into obstacles. However he says it is not in the country's interests to negotiate through the media, and he is trying to get a discreet resolution.
Sources say one of the big obstacles is New Zealand's refusal to resume live sheep exports to the region.,nrhl

Shipping live sheep to the Gulf is an inefficient way of sending meat over there. Could it be that the devout Islamic states want sheep killed according the uncompromising Hallal rites, without prior stunning, which they could not do in New Zealand and spotted the loop hole of the exception made for kosher schechita? Is it possible that The Hon David Carter, minister of agriculture, passed the regulation to stop schechita over night without further consultation, against the advice of his own staff, to help his colleague, Tim Grosser, Minister of Trade dig himself out of a difficult position?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Statement of Principles

Jewish Blogesphere has been ubuzz with talk on the Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community.

Firstly, let me say that I fully support the statement and agree with the intent and details of the endeavour.

I don’t believe that there is anything controversial about this statement, and the fact that it has to be written out and signed and isn’t self-evident is a huge failing of the Orthodox community.This failing is compounded by the fact that there are several Rabbis who have refused to sign.

In a nutshell the Statement says that certain Homosexual acts are forbidden by Halacha, but we should not use this as an excuse to shun Jews who are struggling to deal with Homosexual tendencies.

I like the fact that the Statement points out that it doesn’t matter whether Homosexual tendencies are “Nature” or “Nurture”, certain acts are still forbidden. The Statement also does not endorse “Correction Therapy”.

It also points out that we should be particularly sensitive to members of our community who are unable to achieve sexual fulfilment within the confines of Halacha.

What the statement doesn’t mention, is that there are many people beyond those with Same-Sex attractions who are also unable to achieve sexual fulfilment within Halacha.

This would include people with other types of sexual attractions, for example people who are attracted to young children, animals, multiple partners, etc.

There are also people with regular sexual attractions who are restricted by Halacha, for example someone who’s spouse is missing or physically (or emotionally) unable to be intimate. There are also many older single people who have been unable to find their Beshert and have no permissible outlet for their sexuality; this issue is especially problematic for older Cohanim (especially Ba’alei Tshuva), who are very limited in who they are able to marry.

To be in one of the situations listed above is truly tragic, and we as a Torah Observant community should be sensitive and supportive of these people, especially those for whom there is no Halachic solution.

We should not encourage people to openly flaunt Halacha, for example by openly living in a forbidden relationship (which includes all sexual relationships outside of marriage, whether homo or hetero-sexual), however it is also important to keep out of other peoples private lives. If 2 people are living together, we shouldn’t automatically assume that they are engaging in forbidden activities.

As a believer in an All-Compassionate G-d, it pains me to think of people who are denied an important part of human existence as a result of their commitment to G-d’s Law, and it is beyond human understanding why an All-Compassionate G-d would create a universe in this manner, but as they say in the Mama Loshen פוהן אַ קאַשיאַ שטאַרבט מען נישט (You don’t die from a question), although tragically with the high suicide rate amongst people with Same-Sex attractions, there are some questions that people do die over.

Quote of the Day

I know that the headline was borrowed from Life in Israel, but I couldn’t think of any other heading to put above this gem from The Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web:

Cameron: Settlers Back to Gaza
Britain's rookie prime minister, David Cameron, is weighing in on the situation in Gaza, where Israel has been enforcing a blockade to prevent the re-arming of Hamas terrorists. London's Daily Telegraph quotes him:

Mr Cameron said: "The situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. . . ."

So apparently he wants Gazans to send humanitarian goods to Israel and Israeli settlers to return to Gaza.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Environmentalism as Idol Worship

In a few weeks the Daf Yomi cycle will start Misechet Avoda Zara. In our day an age it is difficult to understand how people could worship idols that they themselves had made, however today there are other types of Idol Worship.

There are elements within the green environmental movement that strongly resemble idol worship. For example, This guy makes an argument for climate control which is almost identical to Pascal’s Wager, not sure whether he even realizes that he has drawn the same grid as used to explain Pascal’s wager, or that his argument has the same holes in it as Pascal’s wager has. (If you’re not sure of the logical problems in Pascal’s wager, or this environmental argument, please contact me, I wrote an essay on it in University)

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that it is important to respect and protect our planet, in fact Chapter 2 of Berashit (Genesis), immediately after HaShem creates Man, he commands Man as follows:

וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ (בראשית ב’ ט”ו)

God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and watch it. (Genesis 2:16)

However, I believe that we should protect our planet for the benefit of future generations. Protecting the planet should not be a means unto itself.

I think that Rabbi Shmuley Boetach phrased it best in a recent column:

Saving a tree, however important, is never as significant as saving a human life. Stopping a rainforest from being decimated is still subordinate to stopping genocide.

Which brings me to the point of this article, there are environment-extremists who believe that saving the plant is more important than saving the human race, they are literarily campaigning for the extinction of the Human race. There is actually a Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT).

In a recent interview, VHEMT founder, Les U. Knight (sounds like a pseudo-name to me) describes the logic behind his movement:

How did the whole VHEMT thing come about?

A. It came about for me the same way it's come about for millions of other people. You just start looking at the world and thinking about the problems and solutions to the problems, and eventually you come down to the fact that our excessive breeding has increased the population to the point where we're not taking care of everybody, and if there weren't any humans on the planet, everything would be fine. The biosphere would recover, species that we are driving to extinction would no longer be endangered and could flourish, and there'd be no more human suffering.

It's an idea that's probably been around for a very long time -- I just gave it a name.

Q. Definitely we humans have made a mess of things on this planet, but we've made some great stuff too -- music, art, literature. Wouldn't it be a shame to see all of that human culture disappear?

A. We wouldn't see it disappear.

Q. Because we wouldn't be here?

A. [Laughs.] All those things are fun for humans, and I hope we continue doing them right to the last day, but we haven't done anything that benefits the rest of the planet.  The rest of creation could do just fine without us. Since even before we became Homo sapiens, we've been adversely impacting ecosystems that we inhabited.

In other words, as human beings are incapable of doing anything of benefit to the planet, and the “Planet” is all-important, we would best serve mother Earth by voluntary extinction.

Certainly sounds crazy, but also not unlike Idol Worship of yester-year that was prepared to sacrifice human lives for the perceived benefit of some manifestation of nature.

Lest there be any confusion, let me remind Mr Knight that although we are commanded to protect our planet in Chapter 2 of Genesis, Chapter 1 of Genesis says explicitly that we are here to enjoy and populate this World, as G-d phrased it:

כח וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל-חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ.  כט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כָּל-עֵשֶׂב זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ וְאֶת-כָּל-הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ פְרִי-עֵץ זֹרֵעַ זָרַע  לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה.  ל וּלְכָל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל רוֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה אֶת-כָּל-יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב לְאָכְלָה וַיְהִי-כֵן. 
בראשית פרק א'

God blessed them [Man and Woman]. God said to them, 'Be fertile and become many. Fill the land and conquer it. Dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that walks the land. God said, 'Behold, I have given you every seedbearing plant on the face of the earth, and every tree that has seedbearing fruit. It shall be to you for food. For every beast of the field, every bird of the sky, and everything that walks the land, that has in it a living soul, all plant vegetation shall be food.' It remained that way.
(Genesis 1 28-30)

I doubt that Mr Knight takes Genesis seriously, however for those of us who are “מאמינים בני מאמינים” (Believers, sons of believers), it is important to realize that there are absolute moral values in this world, and extinction of the human race is not amongst them.

Jews are here there and everywhere

Frum Satire has a great link to MaNishtana, a black Jew (or as her calls himself, a Jew of Colour).

He has some cute videos, check out this explanation of Purim which includes flags of many countries with Jewish populations blended with the Flag of Israel – well I thought it was cute (Like the New Zealand Flag that he used?)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I wonder how common this question is….

The New York Times has a weekly column by Randy Cohen where he addresses ethical questions submitted by readers.

A few times the questions have been specific to the Orthodox Jewish community, but I think that this week’s question takes the cake.

I am a straight woman, and I was set up on a date with a man. We got along well initially, but I grew concerned about how evasive he was about his past. I did some sophisticated checking online — I do research professionally — and discovered that he [sic] is a female-to-male transgender individual. I then ended our relationship. He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person?

Makes me wonder how common these types of issues are.

I actually know of at least two transgender people who are (or at least were) Orthodox Jews, although both were male-to-female individuals, so they couldn’t be the person described in the letter.

Interesting question of Lashon Hara – if you knew of a transgender person “Shidduch Dating” (for want of a better term) without telling their date that they were once of a different gender, is their an obligation to make the situation known publically, or at least inform people who have been set up on dates with the person?

Transgender people also raise interesting questions of where they should sit in shul (which side of the Mechitza), Kol Isha, and whether they should be allowed to teach at YU, But I’ll leave those questions to the Halachic authorities.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where the Supreme Court Has Failed

I’ve been avoiding commenting on the Emanuel case, on one hand I am against any type of racism, particularly within the Jewish Community, on the other hand I think that it is the right of parents to set religious standards for their schools, and it seems that the sfardi girls who were being excluded from the school in Emanuel were excluded based on their religious standards, not their ethnic background.

That said, I think that the Supreme Court overplayed its hand by sending parents to prison. If they wanted to fine the school or close the school down, that would have been reasonable, but sending parents to jail sounds more like a power play than a reasonable way to enforce the law.

However, I think that there is a bigger problem with the Supreme Court and it has been a problem for many years, and that is that the Court is nor perceived as being neutral or fair.

Leaders of the religious community, the “Settler” community, the Arab community have all accused the Supreme Court of bias. If the only segment of Israeli society that regard the court as fair is the “Liberal Secular” then we have a real problem.

Again, the problem is one of appearance, even is bias is not really there.

If the leadership of the Black, or Mormon, or Asian community in the US claimed that the Supreme Court was biased against them, and were able to organize demonstrations across the country protesting against the Court, that would indicate that the court has a credibility issue within that community.

If the court did not address the issue, by meeting with leaders of minority communities, getting more minority representation on the court, or other methods, it would not matter whether there was real bias or not, the court would have lost all credibility within that community, making it almost impossible do make any ruling which effects that community that would be accepted willingly by the community.

In Israel the perception of bias has gone on for decades. This is not the first time that there have been massive Heredi demonstrations against the Supreme Court, and the court has done little, if anything to convince the Haredi, or religious Zionist community that they are not biased against them.

This perception of bias undermines the authority of the court, and contributes to the breakdown of law in the country as a whole.

Releasing the Slonim parents from jail, and meetings between the Supreme Court judges and leaders in the Slonim community would be a good step in restoring the credibility of the court. Unfortunately, I don’t see the court as regarding its own credibility as a worthwhile venture.

Friday, June 18, 2010

History of Opposition to Shechita in New Zealand

Sorry to beat a dead horse (or at least a stunned chicken), but I found this brief history very interesting.

Opposition to Shechita in New Zealand is nothing new, according to the History of Jews in New Zealand, proposals to make stunning of animals mandatory date back to 1908:

As far back as 1908, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals attempted to ban Shehitah. It tried to introduce a Bill in Parliament requiring the stunning of animals before slaughter. When it realized its absurdity as far as the Jewish ritual was concerned, it dropped the proposals. Another campaign undertaken all over New Zealand about 1950 by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to prevent Shehitah, seemed to introduce an element of anti-semitism. Most of the previous objections to Shehitah concerned the manner of casting the animals in preparation for slaughter. When the Jewish communities bought casting pens which overcame this objection, the Society began to object to Shehitah itself, although it had incontrovertible evidence given by the greatest scientists in the world of the humaneness of the Shehitah method. Without notifying Rabbi Astor, the Society removed his name as vice-president, but it retained the name of Sir Ernest Davis as a patron.

Even earlier there was a bill before parliament in 1894 which was amended to explicitly allow Shechita:

Besides the problem of compulsory religious education in schools, another question which concerned all the New Zealand Jewish communities came before Parliament in 1894. The Government introduced a Bill which had as its purpose the improvement of conditions in the matter of the slaughter of animals. Fearful that the Bill would affect the Jewish method of Shehitah, the committee of the Dunedin Synagogue, its minister and the mayor of the city, telegraphed the mover of the motion, D. Pinkerton, to insert a clause allowing Jews to continue with their method of Kosher slaughtering. To their relief, Parliament agreed.

So for over a hundred years New Zealand parliament has backed the right of the Jewish Community to eat kosher meat in the face of opposition from various animal welfare organizations. Lets hope that the government gets itself back into track

The Christchurcher Rebbe

When people hear that I’m from New Zealand, one of the most common questions that I get is whether I’m from Christchurch (I’m Not), and whether there is a Rov of Christchurch.

Christchurch is the biggest city in the South Island of New Zealand and has a small shul which has been operating for over a hundred years, in spite of the small size of the local Jewish Community. (I was only once there for a Shabbat, in the 90s, that Shabbat there was an exceptionally large crowd of maybe 13 people, since then the community has gotten much smaller).

In recent years there is a Chabadnik who has set up shop in Christchurch and caters mainly to Israeli tourists travelling the South Island.

Anyway, there is a story about one of the first rabbonim who went to New Zealand  back in the 1870s, who wrote to his parents in Eretz Yisrael that he had been appointed “Minister of Christchurch” – they sat Shiva for him.

I just found the story online, as documented in “The History of the Jews in New Zealand (Chapter XIV)”

By 1870, the gold-rush on the West Coast had ended. Miners and their followers came back in droves to Christchurch, the first town they would touch in the east. Jews of Hokitika returned also, bringing with them their minister, the Rev. Isaac Zachariah. The Canterbury Hebrew Congregation immediately appointed him as its minister and Shohet, although he could not speak English well. A Baghdadi, Sephardi Jew, he had lived and studied in Jerusalem and liked nothing better than when, in the privacy of his own home, he could eat his oriental food and dress in the comfort of his oriental garb. When he wrote to his parents that he had accepted a post as a minister in Christchurch they ceased corresponding with him. They thought he had "shmud" himself and had converted to the Christian Church. Even on explanation they regarded his appointment with suspicion which he only dispelled when on a visit to the Holy Land.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More on Shechita in New Zealand

Just saw this speech from Mr Carter, the NZ Minister of Agriculture, in which he is proud that he twice ignored the recommendations of National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, and disregarded the concerns of a “relatively small religious minority”.

The Commercial Slaughter Code of Welfare came back from the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and sat on the previous Minister's desk; he sent it back to the Committee because he wasn't completely happy with the recommended exemption for Shechita.

It came back again unchanged. When it came to my desk I decided it had to be dealt with.

And now I have issued it - there are no exemptions.

In doing so, we may have upset a relatively small religious minority, and I do appreciate their strong feelings for this issue but frankly I don't think any animal should suffer in the slaughter process.

At the end of the day, my responsibility is to make decisions and move forward, and that's what I've done.


Glad that the minister regards the feelings of animals during the last 12 seconds of their lives more important than the rights of a small religious community to observe their religion.

The frustrating thing about this case is that livestock bread for meat are terribly abused their entire lives, you only have to look at how cows or chickens are transported to slaughterhouses to realize that there is very little concern for their welfare.

Suddenly, the moment of slaughter arrives, and the minister suddenly feels that “no animal should suffer in the slaughter process” is of extreme importance. However there doesn’t seem to be legislation on how animals are housed or handled prior to slaughter (when they undoubtedly suffer), just the question of how the slaughter should take place.

Scientific studies have indicated that Shechita is painless to the animal, as it cuts the air supply to the brain, however in New Zealand and Australia the Jewish community has voluntarily agreed to stun the animals immediately after shechita as an added precaution. If there was any suffering after Shechita, it could not be for more than a few seconds.

This information is all in the report that the minister decided to disregard.

I’m awaiting the ban on hunting, a sport which is still licensed by the same New Zealand Government that is so concerned about the welfare of animals during the last few seconds of its life.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

But at least he loved his mother

One of the “Peace Activists” who died last week on the "Flotilla Aid Mission” was 19 year old Furkan Dogan, a US citizen because his Turkish parents were in Troy, NY when he was born.

Like many peace activists and humanitarians, he loved his mother. He even wrote about herin his final diary entry, as reported by Al-Jazeera (translated by MEMRI):

"One of the martyrs was 19 years old. We've just found his last diary in his suitcase. The last lines he wrote before the attack were: 'Only a short time left before martyrdom. This is the most important stage of my life. Nothing is more beautiful than martyrdom, except for one's love for one's mother. But I don't know what is sweeter – my mother or martyrdom.'

What a sweet young man, and what a shame that he had to die (or achieve “martyrdom”) in such tragic circumstances. I’m sure that his mother must be very proud of him.

Monday, June 7, 2010


I just removed a post, I received a link from a reliable source, but on further investifation I realized that the video dates back to 2009, so cannot be related to recent events in Ashdod.

My aplogogies

Friday, June 4, 2010

If you can't beat 'em, mock 'em

Given that the Hamas PR guys seem so much better at selling their (false) message than the Israelis, at least a group of creative people managed to put together this song...

Flotilla Choir presents: We Con the World

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I love this quote...

Life in Israel has this great quote from MK Eliezer Moses (UTJ) during yesterday's debate in the Knesset:

When Moses took his turn to speak, he said the following, "It is told that Shchem ben Chamor took Dina the daughter of Yaakov. The sons of Yaakov decided to fight them with trickery, and convinced them to circumcise themselves. On the third day after the circumcisions, at the height of their pain, the children of Yaakov killed them all to save their sister.

The question is asked why did they convert them to Jews?

The answer is that if the children of Yaakov had killed them when they were still non-Jews, the Security Council would have screamed out and the UN would have screamed "Gevald!" - but to kill Jews? nu nu, that can be let go without superfluous commissions of inquiry.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Letter to the Minister of Agriculture

Below is a letter that I just sent to the New Zealand Minister of Agriculture.

I will keep you posted if I get a response…

Hon David Carter,
Minister of Agriculture,

Dear Mr. Carter,

I read with dismay news reports of the new code of welfare for commercial slaughter which came into effect 28 May 2010.

According to the MAF web site ( ), all commercially slaughtered animals will require stunning before slaughtering.

As the minister is no-doubt aware, this will make Shechita (Kosher slaughtering) impossible in New Zealand, making New Zealand the only country in the world with a Jewish Community where kosher meat cannot be slaughtered locally or imported from neighbouring countries at a reasonable cost.

This issue has already received a lot of negative publicity globally, particularly in the Jewish and Israeli media.

As a New Zealand born Orthodox Jew who has elderly parents living in New Zealand who only eat kosher meat, I found it very distressing to hear that New Zealand, which has always prided itself on tolerance and acceptance of minorities, is now in effect making it practically impossible for people to observe the Jewish religion in the country. This will have a large impact on the daily life of my parents.

This is a sad break with the warm welcome that the New Zealand Jewish community has experienced in New Zealand for over 150 years, and is especially distressing in light of the high number of Jewish tourists or potential immigrants who will now feel unable to visit New Zealand without compromising their religious standards or being forced to adopt vegetarianism.

I realise that it is legal to import kosher beef (but not chicken) from Australia, but the Minister must be aware that the cost of imported meat is prohibitive and not a realistic option for many kosher-observant families in New Zealand.

As far as I am aware, there is no solution at all for Kosher poultry in New Zealand.

I hope that the minister will implement a clarification or solution which will safeguard the rights of the New Zealand Jewish community.

Yours sincerely,


Michael Sedley
Modi’in, Israel